In South Walton, beachgoers are well familiar with the beautiful turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But the area is also home to 15 coastal dune lakes, a geographical feature so rare that it only exists in a handful of places on Earth.
The dune lakes of South Walton were created by wind and waves thousands of years ago and are constantly evolving. They’re unusually shallow, with an average depth of about five feet, and the dunes surrounding them can get as tall as 30 feet high. Water in the dune lakes is brackish, meaning it contains a widely varying mix of salt and fresh water.
Occasionally, the water level in a dune lake reaches a critical level due to rainfall and inflows from streams. At that point, the lowest elevation of the beach gives way (locals call it a “blow out”), sending lake water into the Gulf via a temporary waterway called an outfall. Depending on tidal flows and wind conditions, saltwater from the Gulf may enter the lake along with saltwater plants and animals. The exchange between Gulf and dune lake continues until it reaches a natural equilibrium, and the connection closes again.
Because of those ever-changing water conditions, the lakes are known to be a biologically diverse, critical habitat to a wide variety of plants and animals, as well as an important natural estuary between the Gulf and upland areas.
Deer Lake State Park is a 1,995-acre facility named after a freshwater coastal dune lake within its boundaries. The trail access to the Gulf of Mexico opens to a magnificent dune field and beach. Deer Lake State Park contains 11 natural communities including: beach dune, mesic Flatwoods, sandhill, scrub, basin swamp, depression marsh, domeswamp, coastal dune lakes, black water stream, estuarine tidal creek and unconsolidated marine substrate. Blackwater streams are lined with spring azaleas. Summer wildflowers are seen around cypress domes throughout the sand hills and long-leaf pine habitat of the park.
Deer Lake Park boasts a diversity of plants and wildlife. Rare plant species include Cruise’s golden aster, Godfrey’s golden aster, Gulf Coast lupine, large-leafed jointweed, oak scrub and spoon flower. Fishing, hiking and swimming are just a few of the activities enjoyed in Deer Lake State Park.
Dune Lakes and Deer Lake State Park write up by visitsouthwalton.com | Oyster Lake images by SoWal, Destinto30a.com and Kleinsoldmine.com | Stallworth Lake images by Discover30a.com, SoWal and Destinvacation.com | Western Lake images by Moon Creek, SoWal.com, Visitsouthwalton.com, Markbair.com | Deer Lake State Park images by Sowal.com